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Is Purchasing Prescription Medication Over the Internet Safe?

3/5/2003

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For thousands of consumers, ordering prescription drugs has gotten a little easier. Like other e-commerce enterprises, online pharmacies have a certain appeal - no waiting in line, you don't have to leave your home to pick up the product and no embarrassing moments. Click your mouse a few times and you're set. But is purchasing prescription medication over the Internet safe? Some health care experts say no!

While there are legitimate online pharmacies, there are many other prescription web sites that could be dangerous to your health. Oftentimes, the quality of the prescription drug you receive from some online pharmacies is unknown. In several cases the drugs are counterfeits - lacking any real similarity to the approved drug. Even if the drug you purchase is authentic, it may be contaminated or its effectiveness outdated.

What can you do to safeguard your health? The Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises consumers to be wary of prescription web sites that claim to have doctors on staff. These are doctors who have never examined you and might therefore prescribe a drug that could be inappropriate. Some online pharmacies are known to sell powerful drugs based on nothing more than a consultation with an online doctor.

If you wish to purchase prescription drugs on the Internet, first visit with your doctor and obtain a prescription. Look for a pharmacy web site you're familiar with. Also, look for sites that display the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites' (VIPPS) seal of approval from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (www.nabp.net).

VIPPS certification requires that online pharmacies be licensed in every state to which they ship drugs. In addition, sites must meet standards for patient privacy, quality assurance, authentication, and security of prescriptions and communication between patients and pharmacists.

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, ordering prescription drugs over the Internet for anything but legitimate medical purposes is illegal under both state and federal laws. If you have questions about the importation of drug products for personal use, consult with your local Food and Drug Administration district office (www.fda.gov) . If you have questions about an advertised product, contact your local BBB.

In Canada, only "brick-and-mortar" pharmacies are licensed to operate. Online pharmacies are either sites of "brick-and-mortar" companies, or they are illegal or fraudulent businesses. You can verify any Canadian pharmacy through VIPPS.

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